There will not be a better game in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 than Florida vs Pittsburgh Saturday as the March Madness field begins to weed itself out. The Final Four is still a couple of weeks away but the Gators and the Panthers game Saturday in Orlando, FL will have a Final Four feel at tip-off.
The current mind-set among national media types and those that react too quickly in a 24 hour news cycle is Pittsburgh looked more like a No. 1 seed than Florida did last Thursday. That would be true, but if Florida coach Billy Donovan is worried about playing Pitt it is not because of an opening round game where Pittsburgh crushed Colorado. He will like be more worried about the fact that Pittsburgh has been winning these kind of games for ten years under Jamie Dixon. That is how Dixon earned his reputation and how the Panthers earned 12 straight NCAA tournaments berths.
Pitt again will be led a couple of seniors in forward Lamar Patterson and center Talib Zanna. Patterson averaged 17.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 4.3 apg leading the Panthers in both points and assists and will need to have a big game if Pitt is going to beat the Gators. For his part Zanna averaged 13.1 ppg and 8.6 rpg and together with Patterson make one of the elite front court duos in college basketball.
Zanna was dominant on Thursday but Saturday against Florida will be a different story. Points and rebounds will be harder to come by against Florida than Colorado. Pitt has seen a lot of quality teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference but none that matches a Gator team that has won a school-record 27 straight games and swept the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
Florida can beat a team from the both the perimeter and paint and if there is a lock to make the 2014 Final Four it would be the Gators. Billy Donovan is one of the elite coaches in college basketball and though his team’s lethargic performance Thursday night against the Great Danes of Albany have caused fans and pundits to take another look at this game, it was likely the perfect tonic for a coach.
Donovan now has a couple tools to motivate the best team in the country. The first is their performance Thursday night and the other is Pitt’s performance Thursday afternoon. It is hard to imagine a scenario that any team would overlook the Panthers in the NCAA tournament but that would be impossible now given the events of Thursday.
If senior center Patric Young can merely contain Patterson and Zanna and back court mates Michael Frazier II and Scottie Wilbiken keep the Pitt defense honest with an outside shooting threat then Florida will be just fine. It has been a formula no team has solved in the country has solved all year.
This is where March Madness starts to get really good as the fat starts to get trimmed off the bone in the NCAA tournament. That is good thing for everyone except Pittsburgh. Their chance to beat the Gators kept dwindling the more they pounded Colorado. That wake up call on Thursday will propel the Gators today. Florida moves on Saturday, 75-70.
Commentary by Mick Varner